I saw this performance the other day:
As someone who teaches in a low income, urban setting, I can’t even begin to describe what this poem means to me. As someone who still thinks racism is alive and well, as someone who wants better for the next generation, as someone who sees the struggle Mr. Beaty describes unfold every day – words fail me. But I also started thinking about our own spiritual imprisonment and the freedom we have in Christ, so I thought I’d share those thoughts, at least.
One of the hardest things to overcome is the past. We sometimes joke about the Freudian tendency to blame everything on our childhood while we silently act on those lessons and influences of that childhood every day. We are who we were shaped to be, and it can be very difficult to break out of the mold in which we were cast as children. If we were raised in a house where terrible influences were prevalent, our homes will likely be similar. If we saw our parents in bad relationships, we will likely be in bad relationships. If we were in a house where yelling and abuse were prevalent, we may yell and abuse. It can be hard to leap out of those footprints left by our parents or whoever else raised us, and, no matter how hard we try to be individuals, we all have those realizations where we say to ourselves, “Oh my goodness, I am just like my dad (or mom).”
But, if our families were poor influences, we don’t have to suffer those same choices and consequences. We can choose to be better. We can choose to be different. Remember Ezekiel 18:5-18. (I’ve truncated the text below.)
If a man is righteous and does what is just and right…commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully — he is righteous; he shall surely live…
If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things (though he himself did none of these things), who even eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery…He shall not live. He has done all these abominations…
Now suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise…obeys my rules, and walks in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live…
Yet, as hard as it is to leap free from the trenches dug by the footsteps of those before, harder still is it to escape from our own worn paths. We know, however, that we can. With Christ, it is possible, but it takes effort and dedication. When we convert to Him, we leave behind our former selves. “We may be our fathers’ sons and daughters,” Daniel Beaty proclaims, “but we are no their choices.” Likewise, we may have been one type of person in the past, but we are no longer defined by those values, those priorities, those choices. We are someone new. We have a fresh start. We have a chance to begin again.
Romans 12:1-2 says,
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
We see this transformation in effect with the church at Corinth in I Corinthians 6:9-11 (emphasis mine):
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
At some point, we have all been guilty of murdering Jesus on that cross with our sins. We have all been enclosed in the prison of our sins, isolated from our brothers and sisters, isolated from our God, alone and sad. Every day, Jesus comes into our prison, and he approaches that glass barrier separating Him from us. Knock knock, he says. Knock knock. Unlike the Daniel Beaty’s father, however, we can respond. We can allow Him to remove the barrier. We don’t have to live in isolation. We don’t have to remain a prisoner. We can seek pardon and forgiveness, but we have to make sure we haven’t built up security walls of pride and resentment that will indefinitely keep our Savior out.
Knock knock. Will you answer the call? Knock knock. Will you let Him into your heart and your life? Will you submit to His word? Our Savior is watching and waiting. He is always there, patiently knocking, patiently inviting, patiently waiting. But every one of us is on his or her own death row; we only have so long to respond, and we don’t know when the end will come. Won’t you respond to His invitation? Won’t you let Jesus take you out of prison? Won’t you free yourself from the worn paths of sin and worldliness. You have but to submit to His word and reach out to Him. He will tear down the walls of your prison. He will lift you from the beaten path. He will redeem. Knock knock.